Monday, 7 February 2011

Open for business Sesame!

Barnzley the Beneficent came through with another top hook-up. With Mark barely able to walk from the pain in his ankle, leaning on my great-grandfather's cane or tap tap tapping it along the sidewalk like Bind Pew in Treasure Island, and me not much better, tottering under the perceived weight of this, that and the other but numbered amongst which are preparing forecasts and writing proposals strong enough to convince potential partners of our viability, we took the tube to Aldgate East to find a tailoring workshop Barnzley had said might help us finish the samples. Tian, the elegant Chinese patronne, told us over the phone to present ourselves at the secret bunker:
This might be Classic Cuts, it might not

Emerging onto street level I suggested to Mr. Wesley that we ask a nearby policeman if he knew the way as I could not contemplate him walking one step more than required. It is testimony to his agony that he did, because being a man he would NEVER normally ask for directions. A little while later we hobbled in bearing our fabrics that Tian straight away deemed "beautiful" and in so doing, put us at better ease. She asked when we needed finished garments and I tensed myself for a brittle laugh and the door but instead she calmly pronounced it possible and did we want pockets slanted or straight? As a result, this capable and skillful operation takes on work for many top drawer clients but I should perhaps consult before I rattle off names. She thanked us warmly for our business and hoped she could pass screen printing clients our way - for there will be two tiers of the company now: the daily bread of the screen printing and the jam of the fashion collection. Back above ground we looked at each other in some sort of amazement. Truly it felt as if Heaven had opened and a facilitating goddess had come down on a cloud.

Revitalized, if not quite skipping, we followed Tian's advice to go to the Button Queen on Marylebone Lane- There we consulted with Martyn, son of Toni, the lady who created this rightly celebrated specialist spot, and who, we learn sadly, only recently passed away. Her memorial service was last month and we salute a great character of South London. Do click on their website to read her story, it will reward you. Our efforts, meanwhile, were rewarded with a set of blue mother of pearl for our pinstripe. From one angle they look quite board-room conventional but hit by a glitter ball's beam they go all dance floor groovy. Style mags are always wittering on about ladies' outfits carrying them from office to after-hours cocktails and I think we can provide that duality for the gentlemen.

The Earl of Bedlam with purveyor of finest buttons, Martyn,
scion of The Button Queen

From Marylebone Lane we limped into that shrine of haberdashery off Hanover Square, MacCulloch and Wallace, for poppers:

On we shuffled, past the hallowed shrine of Browns, through Berkeley Square to Curzon Street to collect our business cards. But there was too much imperfection in the print, which was conceded and the job was sent back to be redone. On the off-chance I called up my godmother Elisabeth - our fairy landlady of yore at Arlington House - and she urged us to come straight over. She then took us out for a damn fine supper which continued the process begun by Tian of putting us back together. The finishing feather in our hat was the jolly exchange we enjoyed with Mr Wesley's hero, not perhaps so predictable - Mr Jeremy Clarkson, at the Wolesley once again, during a cigarette break. He won his fame as a motoring expert of course - - but acquired some notoriety for his anti-dress sense. Still, he did sincerely admire my raccoon hat and I may just have to get him one when we return to NYC next week.
The Earl of Bedlam and Mr Jeremy Clarkson, Fashion Anti-Hero Supreme

Cleaning up the cave
One of the funnier things about Mark's adoration of Mr Clarkson is that he doesn't actually drive. He loves cars but doesn't trust himself to steer a straight course so long ago decided best avoid temptation by never learning. So it was very kind of his dear friend Mr Scanlon to offer to drive him all the way, in a van, to Barking in Essex no less to collect the screen printing machinery that had just arrived from France. This they then unloaded into the premises on the Clapham Road at The Oval that our Turkish dry cleaner Yashar has been keeping empty until a suitably romantic project presented itself. Ever since I left my mother's car in front of his at the petrol forecourt opposite her street - forgetting I had driven and walking off (??!! I know, I know) he has claimed in his Ali Ba Ba boom that we are destined to do something together. Now he has uttered the words "iftaH ya simsim" and given us access to the cave, which may yet fill with treasure - the basement of the empty shop. This we can use as a workspace and upstairs we can peddle our wares and punt for clients! Open for business Sesame! That is, when I have drafted a "what's-in-it-for-him" deal memo. But Taffy Centurian has most generously opted to act as honest broker and put together a deal, as well as putting some runny golden honey on our screen printing bread.
Shifting furniture and fortune - the white stuff you can see on the shelves is dust an inch thick

A different kind of treasure was handed over by my mother in the shape of two button boxes passed down by my grandmothers. With Mark's eldest son Harry, we sat at the kitchen / cutting table and sifted through them, making sets of the buttons from my father's army uniform (and one from his Boy Scout uniform!), my grandpa's RAF uniform, special occasion dresses from Paris, smart winter coats and who knows what other stories.

My family history as told by buttons

I twisted one set on to an old hair pin and wondered which of my grandma's had used it to pin her hair and whose lingerie required the little blue buttons on the card
I like the one at the centre, bottom, that looks like a Licorice Allsort

Four-leaf clover suede leather buttons, the key to the door to Happiness and a little brass book stamped "The Royal Family". The metal pages once held photographs, now all gone but for one that looks like Queen Alexandra

As things start to roll and the days tick off towards our trip to NYC to see Mr Bell at Barneys the Bedlamites are on round-the-clock stand-by. Saturday saw an all-nighter at our place as André booted up the new i-Mac and prepared the graphics for the screenprinting; Marika sewed the sweats at the smoking machine and her sister Lesley put the finishing touches to the knitwear. We hope to reward their time and talent with more than a Chinese take-away (oh! Happy New Year to our local - "If you need any help we have good contacts at Hong Kong factories!") and some plonk.

The Earl and his Bedlamites

Marika and Lesley, camera shy but talent bold
The Earl at his cutting table

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